SafetyNet 567

March 10, 2021

We welcome subscribers to the latest edition of SafetyNet. Please invite anyone at your workplace who has an interest in OHS to subscribe to the journal.    

We regret to inform you that another Victorian worker was killed in the past week.  

Visit our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page for news, memes and more. If you have any questions or need any advice, we can be reached via the Ask Renata facility on the website or through the closed OHS Network Facebook page. If you have comments or want to send through any ideas, email us at [email protected]

Union News

Worker killed by falling steel

A man was killed last Wednesday after he was struck by steel which fell from an elevated storage rack at a Dandenong South storage facility. WorkSafe believes the 61-year-old man was using a reach stacker when the incident occurred.

The regulator is investigating the fatality. The death brings the workplace fatality toll to five for 2021.

No worker should die at work: each death is preventable. The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased worker. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

Australia has had a total, to date, of 28,937 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed.

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still climbing, although it is hoped that when the vaccines take effect, the increases will reduce. The cumulative number of infections last Wednesday was 112,636,741  - the number today is 118,146,046. This is over 5.5 million more cases (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,621,154 COVID-related deaths around the world.

As of today, there had been over 18,300 Victorians who have received their first vaccine. The roll-out of vaccines continues around the country and health authorities are confident that the goals set will be achieved. This is despite news last week that the Italian government had blocked 250,000 doses of the Astra-Seneca vaccine from being exported to Australia. We will soon be manufacturing large numbers of the vaccine in Melbourne, and so blocking this vaccine should not harm our vaccine program in the long term. However, if Europe prevents the export of the Pfizer vaccine then that could cause a few issues, as we do not have the capacity to manufacture this vaccine, and there are 20 million doses on order. The ABC's Dr Norman Swan has said that the Pfizer vaccine should be used for those workers who are in direct contact with overseas arrivals as it is faster working than the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, and is also apparently more effective against some of the new variants of the disease. He said that while these countries need the vaccines, we need them too. 

However, Italy needs the vaccines much more than Australia does. While we have almost zero cases, Italy has seen a surge, with almost 20,000 new cases and over 300 deaths daily. The country has had a total of 3,101,093 cases, and 100,479 deaths. Germany too is experiencing a surge in numbers since the end of last year, with over almost 7,000 new cases and over 280 deaths daily. Germany has had a total of 2,520,609 cases and 72,981 deaths.  

For more information, go to these pages on the website: Coronavirus disease; Coronavirus the Victorian situation and COVID-19 Vaccines

Ask Renata  

Hi OHS Unit,  

My team and I work at a workplace where we do rotating shifts. Recently, the management issued us with an internal memo which stated that workers are not allowed to sleep or nap in the break room during their break time. I would like to know whether there are any regulations in regard to this?

There is nothing in the Victorian Act or the Regulations which prohibits people napping during their scheduled breaks - or in any WHS/OHS legislation around Australia. In fact, meal breaks (ie the longer break) are usually unpaid time, so workers are entitled to do anything they like during these breaks. Even if the breaks are in paid time, the reason why workers must have regular breaks is to eat, drink, refresh themselves, and rest - and this may mean taking a nap. A safe system of work, as per Section 21 of the Act, includes the provision of adequate breaks. Read more: FAQ on Rest/meal breaks

The only issue may be if management is concerned that taking a nap/sleeping during break has unintended effects – such as people missing the end of the break and getting back to work late (an industrial issue) or being groggy after a sleep and then operating machinery (an OHS issue). 

What I recommend is that you raise the issue with your employer/employer rep to ask what the reasons are for this new rule - if they give you any specific concerns or reasons, make sure you ask for evidence to support their position. You also need to point out that if it’s in any way OHS related, then they should have consulted with you as the HSR, as is a requirement under s35 of the OHS Act (see: Duty to consult). 

If you don’t get anywhere, then you can follow up the issue using your powers and the processes under the OHS Act - see: Resolution of issues 

Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. 

Sexual harassment in the workplace

It's hard to avoid this topic as more allegations emerge of sexual assault within Federal Parliament, claims of inappropriate workplace behaviour by Federal cabinet ministers, including Attorney-General Christian Porter, and a historical rape allegation against the Attorney-General. Last week Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham announced an independent review of the workplaces of Commonwealth parliamentarians and their staff, to be conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. 

Birmingham said the aim of the independent review will be to ensure all Federal parliamentary workplaces are safe and respectful, and lead by example. Ironically, Porter, who strenuously denies the rape allegations, oversees Safe Work Australia, Comcare and the Commonwealth WHS Act in his role of Industrial Relations Minister. 

Kate Jenkins said the new Commonwealth review will build on the findings from her national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment, which was finalised early last year, and also made a number of WHS-related recommendations, which included that Australia's WHS ministers agree to amend the model WHS Regulations to prescribe control measures for psychological risks, as recommended by a previous review of the model laws, and develop guidelines on preventing sexual harassment (such guidelines were released by SWA last month). Read more: Statement from the Australian Human Rights Commissioner and more on the Review. Information from SWA: Workplace Sexual Harassment  and Guide: Preventing workplace sexual harassment

Union welcomes announcement on more help for emergency workers

The United Firefighters Union has welcomed last week's announcement by the Andrews Labor Government that as part of its response to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System emergency service workers will receive better support and more accessible mental health services. A special working group will be established in coming weeks with Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria, ESTA and their unions to work through how changes to responses to 000 calls will be implemented.

Premier Daniel Andrews outlined the key changes and also announced a new $6 million Centre of Excellence for emergency service workers to provide better mental health support services for these workers and volunteers, including those who have retired. Delivered in partnership with a specialist network of clinicians, the Centre will build greater understanding of the unique mental health needs of emergency service workers – ensuring health professionals have the advanced skills and tools they need to support these employees.

The union stressed that having quick access to targeted services was crucial for firefighters with post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSIs) and other mental health issues. The UFU's Victorian secretary Peter Marshall said career firefighters are exposed to fatal incidents and other tragedies on a daily basis, and this "accumulated exposure takes a toll on [their] physical and psychological wellbeing". Mr Marshall said, "Extensive research conducted in Australia and internationally has shown that first responders, including professional firefighters, suffer PTSI, depression and other psychological illnesses at a much higher rate than the [general] population. If left untreated this can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, relationship breakdowns and even suicide. Providing specialised support and making it available early on means people can manage the pressure of their work." Read more: Victorian government media release 

Asbestos news

Victoria releases Asbestos Disposal Management Plan

The Victorian Government has released its Asbestos Disposal Management Plan. The plan aims to ensure that Victoria has the infrastructure and supporting systems to enable safe disposal of waste asbestos. Read more: Victoria releases plan or visit Sustainability Victoria for more information.

QLD: Asbestos rules amended

Queensland's asbestos regulations have been amended to reclassify low density asbestos fibre board (LDB) as a friable-asbestos-containing material. The new classification will mean that LDB can only be removed by a class A licensed asbestos removalist. The changes will take effect from 1 May 2021. Read more: ASEA article or visit WorkSafe Queensland for more information.

ACT: new public register for asbestos, high risk and major hazard facility licences

From 1 February 2021, anyone with an ACT licence for asbestos removal (class A and B), asbestos assessment, high-risk work and major hazard facilities must have their licence details published on WorkSafe ACT’s online register. Read more: ASEA or visit WorkSafe ACT for more information.

NSW: asbestos in schools still huge problem

The number of NSW schools known to have friable asbestos has grown in the past 18 months, according to new figures revealed in NSW Budget Estimates last week. 352 schools have been identified as having friable asbestos — a figure Labor upper house MP Courtney Houssos claimed had tripled from 109 schools from 2019.

However, despite some of these schools being rated as “high priority” for removal, School Infrastructure NSW chief executive Anthony Manning said that did not mean they had to be removed but simply monitored (!!). “More than half of the elements are in things like kilns and heaters … or vinyl floor tiles,” Mr Manning said. “They are not decaying in the atmosphere … high priority means it doesn’t need to be removed.”

Anthony Manning clearly does not understand the definition of 'friable' (both in the Department’s official Asbestos Management Plan and in the regulations). If floor tiles have asbestos in them, then it is not friable.  Friable asbestos creates an unacceptable risk to those who may be exposed - students and teachers in these schools. Read more: The Daily Telegraph which includes a list of schools.  

November: National Asbestos Awareness Week

This year, National Asbestos Awareness Week will be held the week of 22 - 28 November. 

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) says that the 2020 week saw excellent participation from organisations all over Australia, spreading the message that asbestos can be present in more places than you’d think. There was a range of different activities that focused on knowing the health risk of asbestos, taking precautions before working with potentially asbestos-containing materials, and seeking professional help.

The Agency will be developing this year’s campaign for National Asbestos Awareness Week and will be sharing the theme and related key messages in the coming months. As with previous years, it will work closely with stakeholders to develop a consistent and tailored theme and related messaging for 2021.

This year, ASEA will continue to provide updates for National Asbestos Awareness Week through the National Asbestos Awareness Week mailing list. To ensure you receive the latest information, updates and news, subscribe to the mailing list.  

More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home

NSW: Delayed State funeral for Jack Mundey today

Green bans founder and former NSW Builders Labourers Federation leader Jack Mundey was honoured at a state funeral in Sydney today. The memorial service, held at 11am at Sydney Town Hall, was also live-streamed. Mundey died in May last year, but the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible to hold a funeral with large numbers of mourners.

In his memory, we reprint the May 2020 SafetyNet item: 

Veteran unionist and environmentalist Jack Mundey, who campaigned to protect some of Sydney's most famous areas from development, died this week aged 90. He was secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in the late 60' and early 70's, which was best known for its green bans - 42 in all - stopping several developments at The Rocks, and saving many historic sites. His actions and those of the union members who refused to work on projects they deemed to be environmentally or socially undesirable provided the inspirations for the world's first Green Party, established in Germany. He was also an activist for worker rights, indigenous rights and also social justice causes such as affordable housing. 

Throughout the 1960s, Mundey led thousands of militant builders’ labourers in courageous and often dangerous campaigns for better work conditions. These workers were poorly paid and conditions were very unsafe. Once, as reported in the Guardian, BLF militants heaved a flimsy substandard work shed into a large hole on a construction site.  Concrete pours were stopped until basic demands were met. 

Mundey was elected secretary of the BLF in 1968, and during the period of his leadership, union meetings were translated into seven languages to meet the needs of members, the majority of whom were migrants. For the first time, women were admitted as members and organisers of the union. Later Mundey was clear that without this fight for the dignity and safety of workers, he and fellow leaders would not have won rank and file support for their green bans. 

A 'life-long radical', he will be remembered by many as a true Australian hero. He inspired many and his work lives on. Vale Jack Mundey. 

Read more: ABC online, The Guardian, CFMMEU media release.- including a video with an interview of Jack Mundey himself and historical footage.   

International Union news

UK: Cruise ship accommodation for site workers questioned

Plans by the London Resort, the Disney style theme park due to be built in the Kent estuary, to house 2,000 construction workers on a cruise ship in the Thames estuary must not go ahead without full consultation, the union Unite has said. Under the plans, which were revealed this week by BBC Radio Essex, after completing their shifts the workers would be transported across the Thames to the cruise ships. The construction project is due to begin in 2022.

Unite has said the success of the scheme requires the London Resort project to address the union’s concerns about the quality of the accommodation, the cost of both the accommodation and food, and the ability of the workers to freely leave the ships and venture into the local area. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “On the face of it this looks like an attractive option for workers. The Hinkley Point project has demonstrated how good quality accommodation for major construction projects attracts highly skilled workers. However, it is essential that the cruise ships don’t in reality become an expensive prison.” He added: “It is essential that those concerned in the project enter into negotiations with Unite, to provide guarantees on not just the price of accommodation but the cost and quality of the food provided, as workers will have no access to their own cooking facilities. Workers are human beings and in order to protect their mental wellbeing it is essential that they are able to freely leave the ship and visit the local community.” The Unite officer concluded: “If these concerns are not addressed then the most skilled workers will vote with their feet, they will either look for work elsewhere, or become demotivated which will greatly damage productivity, creating delays.” 

The other concern, of course, is if there is still COVID-19 around, then cruise ships were identified very early on as being environments where infection could easily be spread by those living in close proximity to each other.  Unite news release. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 987   


Research

Prioritising workers for COVID vaccine most effective 

Academics and health researchers from the UK and Canada have found that vaccine programs that prioritise workers for the COVID-19 vaccine ‘consistently outperform’ those that do not. The researchers from the University of Manchester, Simon Fraser University and Canadian health agencies examined different vaccination strategies in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

They note “age-based rollouts are both less equitable and less effective than strategies that prioritise essential workers”. They demonstrated that strategies targeting essential workers earlier consistently outperform those that do not, and that prioritising essential workers provides a significant level of indirect protection for older adults.

The authors add: “This conclusion holds across numerous outcomes, including cases, hospitalisations, Long COVID, deaths and net monetary benefit, and over a range of possible values for the efficacy of vaccination against infection.” The researchers conclude: “Our analysis focuses on regimes where the pandemic continues to be controlled with distancing and other measures as vaccination proceeds, and where the vaccination strategy is expected to last for over the coming 6-8 months — for example British Columbia, Canada. In such a setting with a total population of 5 million, vaccinating essential workers sooner is expected to prevent over 200,000 infections, over 600 deaths, and to produce a net monetary benefit of over $500m.”

The vaccine rollout program in Australia is a combination of targeting essential workers first, followed quickly by those identified as being ‘high-risk’ due to age or underlying health conditions. This differs from the UK where the government has opted for an age-based rollout. 
Read more: Nicola Mulberry, et all Vaccine Rollout Strategies: The Case for Vaccinating Essential Workers Early. medRxiv 2021.02.23.21252309; (Preview) [abstract and full text]. Information on the UK program: JCVI interim statement on phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, 26 February 2021. Information on Australia's programSource: Risks 987


Regulator News

Victorian news

Regulator launches campaign to raise awareness of sexual harassment at work

Yesterday WorkSafe Victoria launched the Let's Be Very Clear campaign to raise awareness of what sexual harassment is in order to educate employers on their responsibilities and encourage workers to call out unacceptable behaviour. The campaign will run across digital, print, radio and social media channels for a month.

WorkSafe reminds employers that preventing and effectively dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace is their responsibility and that failing to protect workers is a crime. WorkSafe Health and Safety Executive Director Julie Nielsen said the campaign was a wake-up call that this kind of behaviour can never be ok. "Let's be very clear - a workplace where sexual harassment is tolerated is an unsafe workplace," she said. "Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace and we all have a role to play in calling out this unacceptable behaviour when we see it."

The campaign targets employers in industries identified as high risk, including information, media and telecommunications, healthcare and social assistance, retail, education and training, and manufacturing. It follows the announcement on International Working Women's Day (March 8) by the Victorian government that it has begun work on a new plan to stamp out sexual harassment in Victorian workplaces.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, one in three people have been sexually harassed at work in the past five years – highlighting the urgent need to tackle this pervasive workplace health and safety problem.

Acting Premier James Merlino joined Minister for Workplace Safety Ingrid Stitt and Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams to announce the establishment of a Ministerial Taskforce on Workplace Sexual Harassment to develop reforms that will prevent and better respond to sexual harassment in workplaces. A key initiative of this reform program will be starting consultation on a mandatory incident notification scheme that would require employers to notify WorkSafe of workplace sexual harassment. 

The Taskforce will consider ways to strengthen the occupational health and safety framework to address sexual harassment, clarify employer obligations to boost accountability, encourage and support workers to speak up and consider measures to prevent the misuse of non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment matters. It will be co-chaired by Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety Bronwyn Halfpenny MP and Chair of the Equal Workplaces Advisory Council and experienced workplace injury lawyer, Liberty Sanger, will include union, employer and legal representatives, and has been asked to deliver its advice to the Government later this year. Read more: WorkSafe media release. Victorian Government media release

Updated Employee Representation Guide now available

WorkSafe has just released the updated version of vital guidance on the importance of consultation, discrimination, HSR training entitlements, obligations of employers and more. One of the most useful pieces of guidance every produced by WorkSafe, unions and employer groups put our head together to ensure that the updated version is as useful as the original one. It is a fabulous tool for many HSRs trying to ensure their employers comply with their duties under the OHS Act. Check it out here

WorkSafe accepts silica-related autoimmune compensation claim

WorkSafe Victoria insurers have accepted a compensation claim for an employee who was diagnosed with lupus rheumatoid arthritis after being exposed to toxic silica dust, in what lawyers believe could be an Australia-first decision. She developed the autoimmune conditions five years after working at a silica mining factory for nearly two decades. The woman is one of seven people who became unwell after being exposed to toxic silica dust. Her compensation claim was initially rejected, but a revised decision handed down on March 3. 

Roger Singh, the National Practice Leader of Shine Lawyers' Asbestos and Dust Diseases Team who represented the worker believes it is an Australia-first decision.

The link between exposure to silica dust and permanent lung damage is well established. Now lawyers have successfully drawn a connection to silica exposure and a number of autoimmune conditions including lupus, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis. Read more: ABC News online More on Silica 

Meanwhile, in Queensland, regulator finds multiple silica breaches

An inspection of 158 silica stone benchtop workplaces in Queensland has found hundreds of breaches of the Code of Practice. A quarter (84) of the 331 enforcement actions were issued on the Gold Coast, including three prohibition notices, which demonstrates that some of the city’s 45 businesses are continuing to ignore the serious health risks associated with silica dust.

Originally, the state government had only planned to reinspect a “sample” of the workplaces to check they were complying with the Stone Benchtop Code of Practice 2019 [pdf]. The regulator then decided to inspect them all after newspaper inquired why only a sample were being revisited when a Stage 2 audit in September 2018 revealed widespread noncompliance across 138 workplaces. At that time Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) issued 600 statutory notices for respirable crystalline silica-related contraventions, including 57 prohibition notices and 541 improvement notices. 
Read more: The Advertiser 

National News 

Major update to the Hazardous Chemicals Information System

Safe Work Australia has announced that more than 1,200 chemicals have been added or updated on the Hazardous Chemical Information System (HCIS).

HCIS is a free database of chemical classifications and workplace exposure standards for manufacturers, importers, suppliers and end users. This update adds classifications for more than 700 new chemicals and updates over 500 existing entries. The total number of hazardous chemicals listed on HCIS is now over 6,300.

The updated classification information is from tranches 21 to 26 of the Inventory Multi-tiered Assessment and Prioritisation framework, run by the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme. Details of the new and updated chemicals can be found by using the advanced search feature to show chemicals revised this week.  Go to the Hazardous Chemicals Information System. For more information about working with chemicals, go to the Hazardous chemicals page on the Safe Work Australia website. 

National Fatality Statistics 

Safe Work Australia updated its statistics on fatalities on March 4, at which time 18 Australian workers had been killed at work in 2021.  This is an increase of seven fatalities since the previous update on February 18. Five of the deaths occurred in the Transport, postal & warehousing sector. 

The deaths this year have been in the following sectors:

  • 9 in Transport, postal & warehousing

  • 2 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing

  • 2 in Construction
  • 2 in Manufacturing 

  • 1 in Arts & recreation services
  • 1 in Other Services

  • 1 in Wholesale trade

These figures are based mainly on initial media reports and provide a preliminary estimate of the number of people killed while working. Once the appropriate authority has investigated the death, more accurate information becomes available from which Safe Work Australia updates details of the incident. Updated information is used to publish Safe Work Australia’s annual Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities report which includes finalised work-related fatalities from 2003 onwards. Note that the figures are based on preliminary reports, and so at times will change. To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage.


Prosecutions

Victoria: Charges laid over tank container fire

WorkSafe has charged an industrial equipment supplier following a serious workplace incident at Derrimut. Fuelcraft Pty Ltd has been charged with four alleged breaches of section 21(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act; three under section 21(2)(a) for failing to maintain safe systems of work; and one of failing to provide information, instruction and training under section (21)(2)(e). It is further alleged the failure to notify WorkSafe immediately after becoming aware of the incident was a breach of section 38(1) of the Act. 

The charges relate to a May 2019 incident in which two workers using an oxy torch inside an ISO tank container were forced to evacuate when diesel residue ignited causing a fire. The matter was listed for a filing hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 5 March. Source: WorkSafe media release

To check for any Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage. 

SA: PCBU fined $254K after worker's legs amputated

After a worker's legs were amputated by an 'unfit-for-purpose' machine, the employer, hay processor Gilmac Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to safety breaches, but argued that individual deterrence need not feature prominently in its sentence, because it was "contrite" and spent a significant amount of money improving safety after the incident.

With great clarity however, South Australian Employment Tribunal Deputy President Magistrate Stuart Cole convicted and fined the PCBU $245,000, saying there was "little mitigation in a defendant spending money getting its safety processes up to scratch, when they should have been up to scratch in the first place".

The incident occurred in December 2017: the worker was standing on a hay press machine's mezzanine platform trying to move a metal bale for cleaning residue into position when the bale got stuck in the pipe area. He then attempted to dislodge the bale from outside the platform's guardrail and fell onto the weigh table below. This activated the press's cutting blade, which amputated both of his legs below the knees. Had two co-workers not applied a tourniquet prior to the ambulance arriving, the then 35-year-old worker would have bled to death. 

The court heard Gilmac failed to perform a risk assessment after designing the hay press and putting it into operation in 2016, and the plant did not have any engineering controls like guarding or sensors that isolated it if workers came too close to the press or moved into unguarded areas. Although Gilmac's procedures required the press to be isolated "before performing any task on the pressing unit", they did not address how the metal bale should be introduced or stored between uses. At the time of the incident, the worker did not isolate the hay press because he was only moving the metal bale into position.

"In short, the hay press was not fit for purpose," Deputy President Magistrate Cole said. In reducing the appropriate fine of $350,000 by 30 per cent for the early guilty plea, the magistrate said, "It is one thing to respond to an event with improved safety measures; it is another and better thing to proactively avoid injuries in the first place." Read more: Campbell v Gilmac Pty Ltd [2021] SAET 47 (5 March 2021)Source: OHS Alert


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